The Kindness of Strangers

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Middle East » Iran » West » Esfahan
April 21st 2016
Published: May 8th 2016
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Our first full day in Esfahan began with a visit to the 40 Column Palace. Kurush, our new guide, gave us the tour of the place and pointed out historic references among the paintings decorating the walls. Outside, a vista of foliage could be enjoyed by visitors. We walked among the gardens for a bit. The next stop was an old mosque known as the "Shaking Minarets". While outside, Kurush bought us this blended carrot drink with ice cream. This mosque was built in the 14th century over a tomb and is famous for, several times a day, having a person climb into one of the minarets and shaking it excessively. This, in turn, will cause the others to shake. While waiting for the show, I met a man who had come from another part of Iran with his family. He had broken English but we somehow managed to understand each other on a very basic level. He was ecstatic to be talking to a foreigner. In fact everyone else I was with was being approached by curious onlookers who wanted to try to have a conversation. The shaking of the minarets commenced but I thought it was kind of corny. We agreed that the entire structure might come down at some point if they keep shaking the crap out of it so often!

Then we headed to the impressive and gorgeous square, called Emam square, in the center of Esfahan that some of my companions referred to being almost as beautiful as some of the world's great squares like Moscow. Since I've never been, I couldn't comment. Nonetheless, this square used to be an old polo grounds and had large walls surrounding the entirety were spectators once filled the stands. Today there were plenty of locals walking around and enjoying the good weather, horse drawn carriages giving people rides, people having picnics on the grass, and fountains in the center spewing forth jets of water despite the water shortage that this part of Iran is undergoing. The lower level of the walls consisted of an entire bazaar where Nicole and Rebecca were continuing their active search for Persian rugs. Within the square we visited Sheik Lotfollah mosque and then headed up to the Ali Qapou edifice and got a great overlying view of the square itself. We had a late lunch just outside the square and then we were given free reign for the rest of the day. I hung out with Karl, Vilina, Nicole and Rebecca and seeing as they needed their tea fix, we proceeded to an old underground tea house and enjoyed some brew. Many locals were doing the same, and some were smoking Shisha. After that we headed out of the square and proceeded towards the river. Along the way we found an ice cream shop and indulged. Once we reached the river, we found the Khaju Bridge, a long walking bridge with its beautiful facade and loads of people sitting along and watching the rush of water come through from several points. I sat with Rebecca for a bit when a young man approached me and asked if he could speak with me. We talked for some time, and he was very curious about my experience in Iran. He was also very interested to travel the world but lamented that this was difficult in Iran, as it required permits and the ability to take time from work which over here seems to be easier said than done. He also told me that the reason there was so many people at the bridge on this day was that the water flow had been increased for the farmers and that usually the river was just about bone dry! I considered myself lucky to see it in this state. His young wife talked with Rebecca. In the end we exchanged some photos then met up with Karl and Nicole and continued on to another, slightly less impressive bridge, as the sun went down. The walk home took us over an hour but we figured out our way. I sat and had tea in the hotel restaurant until midnight.

The next day we checked out the Hasht Be Hesht Palace. Again we were given some historic background by the ever knowledgeable Kurush. Following this we returned to the Khaju Bridge, this time with Kurush explaining a little more about it. An old Iranian man approached us and began singing a folk song. We then went to the Jolfa district to see a famous Armenian church. Armenians had been living in Iran for a while, and had built a pretty monumental structure. Inside were impressive paintings depicting heaven and hell. Another building over held a museum showcasing different Armenian antiques and commented on the Armenian genocide of the early 20th century. We then went to a restaurant for another late lunch and I ordered some Ta Che which was a layer of rice, chicken, yogurt, and some other stuff thrown in. It tasted very sweet and my meal seemed to be desert based on my taste buds. We then got dropped off at an ancient Zoroastrian temple, known as a fire temple. Before the Arab invasion of Iran, most of the people living were Zoroastrian, a monotheistic religion which began some 3500 years ago. Although many converted to Islam, there are still some people in Iran who adhere to Zoroastrianism, particularly in the city of Yazd.

We climbed up the hill and admired the view. There wasn't much left of the temple itself, just some mud ruins. Since we were on our own now, once we got down we made our way to the busy street nearby and went for some dangerous crossings. A bus slowed down and the driver actually waited almost a full tow minutes until we were able to fully cross and board. That would not have happened back home. I noticed the passengers on the bus were segregated, with men sitting up front and women in the back. Another young guy began talking to me, up until the bus dropped us off near Emam square. We found a high end hotel that somehow had a budget tea house in its interior courtyard, and had some tea. Then we explored more of the square, separating for a while. I sat and people watched. I wondered what the world, particularly the western world, would have thought if they could have seen what I was seeing. Not the image most people have when thinking about Iran.

I met back up with the others some time later and we began walking back to the hotel. On the way we found a fast food place and ordered burgers. A cheeky young man behind the grill served us and was playful flirting with Nicole. We continued our journey back and almost reached the hotel when we seemed to become disoriented. We were in some smaller streets and everything looked the same. I approached an older man and asked for directions. His name was Abbas and he was incredibly helpful and pointed us the right way. Before we left, he invited us to come into his home. I happily accepted and we all followed him inside. It was a holiday today in Iran, Father's Day. He brought us into the dining room and we met the entire family who had all come for the holiday. Abbas spoke very broken English, but we were able to make one another understood and then he would translate for the rest of the family. We were served tea, fresh f fruits, chocolate, cake. It was a serious feast! Some of the younger members all wanted selfies with us. They were even willing to host us all in their home for the night but we had a hotel already. We hung out with them for about two hours and it was a great experience and showed, yet again, the kindness of strangers.

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